Dungeon World: When You Want to Make a Move...

Melissa and I have written quite a few playbookswe still have more in the works, there are six in A Sundered World, I've also written a few adventures, Melissa and I are currently both in the process of writing another one, and we've played a shitload of Dungeon World.

In other words we've written a bunch of moves over the past year or so.

The intention of this post is to give you our move-making process (which overlaps somewhat with creating new classes). This way instead of having to, say, reference a big book of pre-fabbed (and sometimes duplicated) moves in the hopes that it has what you want, or settling for one that's "close enough", you can spend some time thinking and make a move that does precisely what you want.

In addition to essentially getting the move you want every time, the more time you spend actually doing this the faster and better you'll get: case in point The Vampire took a couple weeks from start to finish, and I cranked out a nearly polished psion build over night (so, expect that pretty soon it's done).

Before we get started there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Not every move requires a roll. A lot do, or modify another move, but some just let you do something new without any dice involved.
  • Adding +1 is perfectly fine. No matter what some people will try to shout this down and tell you to do something else, but they're fucking idiots: sometimes just being plain better at doing something than everyone else makes the most sense.
  • Having a defined miss result is also perfectly fine. This is another one I've seen people complain about, but as with a +1 sometimes it just makes sense to have a preset miss result. If it makes you feel better, append "in addition to whatever else the GM says" to your miss result. Even if you don't want to include one, some possible examples for GMs to use can't hurt.
  • Opening up a 12+ option is also perfectly fine. Yet another thing I've seen a couple people whine about. This isn't Apocalypse World, but--for better or worse--a Dungeons & Dragons hack, so creating a few "crit" options is okay in my book (and the book creates a precedence).

Types of Moves
Here's a rundown of the various types of moves:

These moves have no roll, they just constantly do/enable something, or have an effect that takes place whenever the fictional criteria is met. Their "mechanical" effect or impact depends on how easy they are to trigger, if they even require a trigger at all; the fighter's Armored just lets you ignore the clumsy tag when wearing armor; the thief's Halfling move lets you deal +2 damage, but only with ranged weapons; and the paladin's Setup Strike grants a +1d4 damage bonus to an ally, but only after you hack and slash.

Other examples include Make Camp, almost every race move, the bard's A Port in the Storm, the paladin's Quest and Smite, the ranger's Wild Empathy, the thief's Flexible Morals, and the wizard's Ritual.

These modify an existing move, whether it's a Basic, Special, a Starting Move from their class, or an Advanced Move from their class. Generally they fictionally represent that you're more reliable or outright better at that sort of thing. There are several ways to represent this.

The first is to grant some kind of bonus when you do something specific or in certain situations: you could tack on a +1, have a miss count as a 7-9, a 7-9 count as a 10+, or even just make it so that you always get a 10+.

The fighter's Hafling move lets you take +1 when defying danger, but only when your size matters; the cleric's The Scales of Life and Death lets everyone near you take +1 when taking their last breath; and the ranger's Elf has you automatically succeed with a 10+ whenever you undertake a perilous journey through the wilderness.

The important thing is that the trigger is more specific, requires some sort of preceding event, or could affect something afterwards. Like, a move that gives you a +1 forward to hack and slash (Press the Attack), but only when you miss, or a move that lets your hack and slash be an automatic 10+ (Heedless Assault), but the next time you take damage you take +1d6.

Another way to handle it is to change what a 10+, 7-9, and miss means. For example, the paladin's Staunch Defender lets you hold +1 when you use defend, and on a miss you still get 1 (normally you get jack and shit). Similarly the thief's Extremely Cautious, among other things, lets you hold +1 when you use Trap Expert, even on a miss.

Finally, you can open up a 12+ option. These aren't too common, but again many of the classes have at least one so there's a precedent.

The cleric's Greater Empower let's you choose an empowering effect for free (normally it needs a 10+, and bumps it down to a 7-9), fighter's Superior Warrior lets you impress, dismay, or frighten an enemy when you hack and slash, the paladin's Impervious Defender makes it so that the nearest attacker gives you a clear advantage, the ranger's Hunter's Prey lets you ask a question about a monster, the thief's Evasion lets you transcend danger, and the wizard's Highly Logical lets you ask any three questions you want.

Something I've done, but that I don't see in Dungeon World, is opening up new options like allowing you to ask different questions with Discern Realities, spend hold from Defend to do something else, or add more effects to the bard's Arcane Art.

Probably for simplicity reasons these moves are more common than roll-and-hold, but less so than move-modifiers. Given that they are self-contained blocks of rules, they tend to be some of the most complex moves to design and deal with: you make a roll, usually add a stat (or at least some circumstantial modifiers), with a 10+, 7-9, and (sometimes) a miss giving you different results.

This can mean absolute effects, like dealing damage and having your opponent attack you (Hack and Slash), or have you make one or more choices from a list (Volley, the wizard's Cast a Spell, the thief's Backstab). Note that if a move does have you make choices, they can include both good and bad options (and often will), potentially forcing the player to choose what they have to deal with.

There are plenty of examples of this in the book: just crack open the Basic Moves, Special Moves, or flip to any class. If you want an example of a move that uses circumstantial modifiers, check out Recruit.

You make a roll, and hold a variable amount of points depending on how well you roll. Like a roll-and-result move these are self-contained blocks of rules, but where they fictionally differ from roll-and-hold is that the results don't just happen immediately: you instead gain a kind of currency that you can spend on various effects or abilities over a period of time.

From a fictional perspective imagine someone gathering strength or energy (the druid's Shapeshifter), preparing for something (the Bolster basic move), or doing/sustaining something over a period of time (Defend or the thief's Trap Expert).

From a mechanics perspective, roll-and-results do one thing per roll: you hit a monster and deal damage, you avoid an attack, you cast a spell and it does it's thing, or make a deal with someone and they give you or do what you want.

With a roll-and-hold you might be able to do several things per roll: conjure blades of force that you can use to stick someone that gets to close, notice folds in reality that allow you to instantly dart about to evade danger, gradually expel magical energy to create several effects, or wriggle your way into someone's mind, forcing them to obey you for a short period of time.

Make Your Move
So now that you know the types of moves and generally what they're for, it's time to think about your move without considering mechanics at all. Instead, start by imagining how it works from a purely fictional perspective, envisioning as many outcomes—the good and the bad—as you can.

Example: In Melissa's upcoming, as of yet unnamed adventure, she wants a move for when the characters travel through a forest filled with strange animals and fey creatures. The wood seems to twist and change as you walk, with the rare paths never winding the same way twice. Sibilant whispers and songs can be heard, and scintillating lights and dancing shadows can be seen between distant trees and at the edge of your vision.

Usually people eventually make it through the forest, though they don't seem to recall the entire journey, and the amount of time it takes always seems to change. Often fey creatures will play pranks on travelers, and while most are relatively harmless (physically, anyway), there are more malicious denizens that don't seem to understand—or care—about their victims.

There's already a move that tackles traveling through dangerous regions: Undertake a Perilous Journey. The trigger is when you travel through hostile territory, which seems to fit the forest perfectly. The problem is that this isn't just any forest: people rarely exit the same place twice, and the amount of time it can take is anyone's guess.

So right now we're looking at a move-modifier. A blanket -1 would reduce the overall chance of success across the board, which works, but the thing is that no one makes it out when or where they think they should. Plus, there's no shortage of creatures willing to disorient, harm, and hinder their progress. A simple way to emphasize that is to cap results at a 7-9, and with those two tweaks here's the final move:

When you undertake a perilous journey through the forest, take -1 and a 10+ counts as a 7-9.

Potential miss effects include having the characters lose their belongings (whether stolen, vandalized, or traded), have their food spoil, suffer from some kind of curse, owe someone a favor for guiding them out, have their hair shaved off, be addicted to strange mushrooms that they had to eat to survive, and so on.

For another example let's take a look at my Expedition to Castle Ravenloft conversion. Early on when you arrive in the village of Barovia (not sure if that's the name of the village, or if it's just "the village" in Barovia), you run into zombies. But these aren't just any zombies; no, they're plague zombies. Think typical zombie movies, where you get bit, eventually die, and later rise as another zombie.

Now I don't want the characters to slowly die because they get bit once, especially with my group, where miss XP accounts for like half of everything they get. I also don't want the characters to have to roll twice for certain attacks. Think about it: you roll to defy danger, get bit, and then have to make another roll to resist plague. Or you roll to hack and slash, get bit, then have to roll to resist. That's just gonna bog the game down.

Ideally I want something that doesn't need a roll, something that emphasizes that these guys are more dangerous than your average zombie, but without making them too lethal. This is what I came up with:

When you are bitten by a plague zombie, hold 1 plague. Reduce your maximum hit points by the amount of plague you hold.

I could have gone with gaining 1d4 plague, but since plague cannot be recovered by typical items I think that's just way too goddamn much, especially for the 1st-level crowd; 1 plague still adds something, and the more bites you rack up the lower your hit point ceiling gets. This is simple, easy to track, and better emphasizes the danger of these zombies. But, how do you get rid of plague? Whelp, that's where this move comes in:

When you make camp and have plague, roll+CON. ✴On a 10+, reduce your plague by 1d4. ✴On a 7-9, reduce your plague by 1. ✴On a miss, increase your plague by 1.

I kind of cribbed this from the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons disease mechanic, where you make an Endurance check after every long rest to see if you recover or get worse when you're sick. I've used it for fungus zombies in Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes, and suffering statues from If These Stones Could Scream to great effect.

Finally, something from There Was a Method to Her Madness. For a variety of reasons I wanted a move for when you encounter a lone prisoner and try to get them to help you out.

At a glance Parley seems like a good start, as leverage could mean simply not killing them, trying to get their sentence reduced later by speaking on their behalf, letting them go free, and/or just staying out of their way. The problem for me is that results just feel too "safe" for my taste: on a 10+ they'll do what you ask if you merely promise to do what they want you to, and on a 7-9 they'll do what you want if they get some concrete assurance.

I think Parley would work if you just want the prisoner to stand down or leave, but if you want them to help you out—or they just can't go anywhere else—then I think the player should be wondering if/when/how this guy is going to betray them. He is after all a criminal: Will he shank you and leave you to die, especially to save his own skin; If you run into other criminals will they be able to convince him that he should be on "their" side; Will he just abandon you when the going gets tough or you let your guard down?

Here's the roll-and-result I have so far:

When you try to convince a prisoner to listen to reason, roll+CHA. ✴On a 10+, choose 3. ✴On a 7-9, choose 2. ✴On a miss, choose 1 in addition to whatever else the GM tells you.
  • The prisoner helps you to the best of his ability.
  • The prisoner won't harm you when an opportunity presents itself.
  • The prisoner won't be swayed by his fellow inmates to abandon or betray you.
  • The prisoner won't flee.

I haven't had anyone take a look at this before, so maybe it could use a tweak or two (or three), or maybe someone has something that would work even better. This is why I also show my stuff to other people (which is always a good idea): to get other opinions and perspectives.

So, if you've got any suggestions or criticisms lemme know in the comments here, or hit me up on G+, Facebook, whatever works for you (they're all in the upper right-hand corner).

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